Life Long Learners

The following is a talk given by my son Andrew in Leander, TX. He and his family just moved into the ward and joined his older brother Charles.

Insights on Mortal Life

5.25.2014
Andrew Himmer!
Insights on Mortal Life
Leander TX !!

PREAMBLE

It’s always a pleasure to attend the same ward as my older brother Charles. Moments to embarrass him don’t present themselves very often. So, when I responded to Br. Bishop that I was delighted to receive the assignment to speak, I really meant it.

My older brother has always served as my role model. Life was never dull growing up in a family of 5 boys. Even going to Church was both interesting and exciting.

Charles may have shared this with you, but when we were very young, it was not uncommon for our parents to perform a full body cavity search and pat Charles and I down before we could enter the Church building. Charles and I, we would often smuggle weapons and other contraband into Church to entertain ourselves (mostly cap-guns and the like toy knives or swords).

Mom and Dad were so focused on Charles and I that they overlooked my younger brother by 2 years, Stuart. He entered Church one sunday without the TSA level security sweep. He was packing two cap gun revolvers hidden in his knee high rubber rain boots. While the sacrament was being passed, Stuart rose up from his bench, drew his guns and unloaded on the pews behind us.

Dad didn’t see it coming. Stuart was added to the security sweep routine soon after.

On another occasion, during the opening prayer of sacrament meeting, Charles and I quickly lost interest in the proceedings. Due to the security sweeps we had no toys to entertain ourselves with so had to be imaginative and resourceful. Charles put a small segment of a ball-bearing chain down my ear, with the end of it protruding out. He was pretending that it was a secret agent ear piece.

Either by my attempt to figure out what my brilliant brother was doing or his attempt to keep it in my ear, it became lodged into my ear canal. I remember Charles’ audible “uhhhh, uh oh”. The chain had disappeared into my ear and he couldn’t get it out. My Dad in his wisdom inquired what Charles was concerned about, for both us had become quiet.

I don’t quite remember the conversation that occurred, but having an intimate knowledge of how my brother works, it probably went like this:

Dad – What’s going on Charles?
Charles – Theres a ball bearing chain stuck in Andrew’s ear, I was trying to help get it out.
Dad – How did it get in there?
Charles – Andrew was pretending to be a Secret Agent.

By this time I quickly became aware of an uncomfortable pressure building inside my right ear. My Dad finally grasping the seriousness of the situation, grabbed me and ran out of the chapel just as the opening long-winded prayer was finishing. He carried me into the foyer and laid me on the floor, with right ear facing down. “Don’t move!” With that my Dad ran back into the chapel. He returned with the only medical professional we knew in our ward. Br. Van Duker, an anesthesiologist. They both came rushing back into the foyer to examine me.

With a flash light and flimsy tweezers (from some lady’s purse), he uncomfortably extracted my ball bearing secret agent ear piece.

I relate these stories for two reasons, one so you can sympathize with my poor mother. And two, so you won’t feel too sorry for Charles and I when we chase our disruptive kids around the Church or take them out when they are screaming. You can watch with the assurance that we probably deserve it.

ADDRESS

Brothers and Sisters, permit me to speak a little bolder than is traditionally heard from our pulpits. For the urgency of my message and the spirit inside my heart compel me to. I speak to the life long learner. Defined as any individual who is in a continual state of learning and self improvement. Those who do not appreciate the role of a life long learner may feel uncomfortable with my remarks.

To quote the biologist John Medina,

“The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things. When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Dopamine aids memory & information processing. It’s like a mental post-it-note that tells your brain “remember this”.

A deep study of the Plan of Salvation offers an eternal perspective. “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” (Abraham 3:24-25)

Since the foundation of the universe, it has been the directive for all things to be tested, evaluated, put into another environment, and tested again. Those intelligences that the Father graded as “good”, graduated to the next level.

“These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.” (2 Abraham 3:19)

These tests allowed Heavenly Father to select from his finest most obedient intelligences, his children, whom he organized into spirits after his own likeness. Heavenly Father offered another test, mortality to prove and try them. With this understanding as a foundation, I offer three insights that have proved beneficial in my life.

Insight #1 – Recognize and condemn mediocrity in ourselves!

Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of nuclear navy, considered one of the most brilliant minds of recent generations, once counseled, “It is important that we distinguish between what it means to fail at a task and what it means to be mediocre. There is, all the difference in the world between the life lived with dignity and style which ends in failure, and one which achieves power and glory, yet is dull, unoriginal, unreflective, and mediocre.

“In a real sense, what matters is not so much whether we make a lot of money or hold a prestigious job; what matter is that we seek out others with knowledge and enthusiasm—that we become people who can enjoy our own company.” (“Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life”, Admiral H. G. Rickover, US Navy at a Luncheon Meeting of the San Diego Rotary Club San Diego, California – Thursday, February 10, 1977)

Sherlock Holmes once told Dr. Watson, “Watson, mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself. It takes talent to recognize genius.” To which he could have added, it takes talent to know that what counts is condemning mediocrity, not in others, but in ourselves.

Insight #2 – Act according to knowledge!

Admiral Rickover continues to teach “It is important to be both a thinker and a doer and to have sense of responsibility. A theoretician who has no responsibility is withdrawn from the real world.
“His recommendations are made in a vacuum. Because he is not required to carry them out, they may be irresponsible and do harm. Similarly, those in charge—the doers—are often devoid of any real thought.”

We need to be suspicious heeding direction in our lives to forces have no stake in it. Perhaps we worry a little too much what others think of us. We watch our TV shows, read our blogs, and tabloids unconsciously realigning ourselves with the expectations of the world, while still keeping up appearances in the Gospel.

David Foster Wallace offered, “I’ve learnt that it’s better to be loved by a few people you care about, than to be liked by everyone. You’ll worry less about what people think about you, when
you realize how seldom they actually do.”

Some of you hear this, and are disheartened that if you live up to expectations of the Lord in face of our progressive society, that no one will like or respect you, that you will be considered too religious, extreme, or such labels that the media gives such people.

Take courage in the words of Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in life.”

Aristotle believed that happiness was to be found in the use of the intellect. In other words, ignorance is not bliss; it is oblivion.
The inspired prayer does not ask for health, wealth, prosperity, or anything material, but says, ‘God, illumine my intellect.’ Man cannot find purpose in his life without expanding and using his intellectual qualities and capacities.

Admiral Rickover continues: “Man has a large capacity for effort. In fact it is so much greater than we think it is that few ever reach this capacity. We should value the faculty of knowing what we ought to do and having the will to do it.

Knowing is easy; it is the doing that is difficult. The critical issue is not what we know but what we do with what we know. The great end of life is not knowledge, but action.

I believe that it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him … we must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success.”

In our Church meetings, we often focus on making ourselves “feel good”. As if this was the primary objective of our meetings. Although this is a good intention, there is a higher purpose.

The respected radio host, Michael Medved once said, “It is far better to do good, than it is to feel good.”

Rather our time spent in our meetings would better served teaching our brothers and sisters through righteous actions, note it is not by word, it is not by exhorting we do too much exhorting, and too little demonstration.

Hugh B. Nibley once wrote about the scale of enthusiasm for living the gospel and a knowledge of gospel. He warned that as a general rule the saints leaned too far toward enthusiastic zealously, he said. “The quality in which the Saints have always excelled is zeal. Zeal is the engine that drives the whole vehicle, without it we would get nowhere.

“But without clutch, throttle, brakes, and steering wheel, our mighty engine becomes an instrument of destruction, and the more powerful the motor, the more disastrous the inevitable crackup if the proper knowledge is lacking.

“Joseph Smith commends intellectual efforts as a corrective to the Latter-day Saints, who lean too far in the other direction, giving their young and old people awards for zeal alone, zeal without knowledge–for sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity, and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom.” (“Zeal without Knowledge”, Hugh B. Nibley)

Insight #3 – Endure to the end!

Often latter-day-saints and investigators find themselves discouraged learning about the high standards of the Gospel. We think, we can’t possibly meet expectations. President Uchtdorf offered, “Although none of us are perfect, we do not use that fact as an excuse”. (“Four titles”, Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice the cello at the age of 90. He replied, “because I think I’m making progress.” This mortal test is not a contest about how much we know, how good we feel about ourselves, or how righteous we think we are relative to our peers. Rather it is a contest with ourselves.

I’m a running enthusiast and in many such sports, there’s a term called personal best, or personal record, often abbreviated as PR. You are running this mortal race. God is at the finish line, he isn’t holding a stop watch and he won’t be grading you on a bell curve. He is not concerned if you walk, sprint, waddle, or crawl, but rather that you reach him with all that you have.

Published by

Richard Himmer

Author, PhD in Organizational Psychology.

5 thoughts on “Life Long Learners”

  1. Well Written Andrew!

    That is inspiring to me as I embark on a personal journey to applying the things I learn in life. It is also surprising to me that you are not a Secret Service Agent with all of the things you and your brothers did growing up.

  2. You really know how to shoot from the hip! I really appreciated this talk– It was just what I needed to hear today. Thanks. T~

  3. Loved the quote by the cellist, Pablo Casals. David O McKay is said to have made a similar observation about his experience with the temple endowment near the end of his life, “I think I am finally beginning to understand it.” He died at age 96. Both exemplify that idea of life long learning. You got me thinking. . . It is not quantity (how many times we attend the temple, or how many meetings we have to attend) but quality. Are those activities changing us for the good? It is about PR and not about competing with others, thanks for sharing that! I always need a reminder. You are awesome. I totally remember Stu’s rubber boots!!!!!

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